The youth workforce is particularly vulnerable to the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Good policies are now more than needed to pave the way for decent and sustainable jobs for young adults.
COVID-19 has shown us just how fragile and globalised our economies and societies are. Poverty and income inequality will severely limit opportunities for youth employment in the post-COVID world.
Today, there are 1.8 billion people in the world between the ages of 15 and 35 - a quarter of the global population. This is the largest generation of youth and young people the world has ever known.
The global recession resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to result in the loss of five to 25 million jobs, and it will be young adults and young people that are most vulnerable to unemployment as youth labour market is highly sensitive to economic cycles. Across the world, young working people will be the first to lose their jobs, or will have to resort to lower quality, less paid, insecure, or unsafe jobs. Especially impacted are young adults, officially classified as youth NEET, who are not in employment, education, or training.
Global youth unemployment rate is three times higher than for adults (OECD, 2018 data). At 13.6%, with considerable regional variation, 9% in Northern America and sub-Saharan Africa to 30% in Northern Africa, these young adults and other young adults will be hardest hit by the current global recession. And the young women that make up over half of the youth unemployed, will find it harder than ever to close the gender gap.
COVID-19 is reshaping the world of work and speeding the digital transformation
Even though all economic sectors are affected by the pandemic, labour-intensive sectors with millions of low-paid and low-skilled young workers have been most dramatically affected. Young people in developing and developed countries make up most workers in the wholesale and retail trade, accommodation, and food services sectors, and these have been hit hardest. An increase in temporary and part-time jobs is forecasted, with little stability and benefits as companies become reluctant to return to full-time employment models.
Covid-19 is forcing economies and companies to speed their digital transformation to meet the sudden boom in home working and online shopping. The crisis is also driving expansion of artificial intelligence and automatisation.
Decent and sustainable Youth employment must be at the forefront of global policy action
The economic shutdown provides a significant opportunity to redesign economies to fight climate change and environmental degradation, and instead invest in decarbonised, sustainable, and green economies. Some cities like Los Angeles (USA), regions (Scotland), and the EU have made progress towards implementing a Green New Deal, putting the environmental and clean tech jobs at the heart of the recovery.
Investing in young people means providing decent and sustainable jobs for young adults. Sustainable future socio-economic progress with flourishing economies and societies need a vibrant, empowered and employed youth at their heart. It must be put at the forefront of policy action so we can build resilient nations with equal, inclusive, and sustainable economies and societies that respect nature and care for future generations.
Good policies for youth employment
Leaving no one behind and reaching out to young people in vulnerable situations require – beside policy interventions – an enhanced educational system with progressive pedagogies, and technical and vocational training providing 21st century skills. Quality education and education for sustainable development are key components of innovation to help learners develop fundamental skills, knowledge, and competencies such as critical thinking, STEM, scenario planning and collaborative decision making, and problem solving. There are inspiring policies in Europe the World Future Council has researched, such as Scotland’s youth employment strategy “Developing the Young Workforce”. This strategy brings together the education system based on learning for sustainability, employers, civil society, youth organisations and local authorities, in order to reduce youth unemployment and to promote pathways for young people to participate in current and future work opportunities.
Vocational education and training models, also known as dual training system, as practiced in some European countries like Austria, Germany, Luxembourg or Switzerland provide for better employability as they help youth transition into employment due to the combination of theory and training embedded in a real-life work environment.
With regard to the topic of entrepreneurship, the Welsh Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy (YES Strategy) is another inspiring policy that boosts youth entrepreneurship. Developed through broad consultations with stakeholders, the YES Strategy is based on the vision to develop and nurture self-sufficient, entrepreneurial young people in all communities across Wales. It is addressed to young people until the age of 25, is funded by the Welsh Government and involves a wide range of local stakeholders, from youth organisations to businesses and schools or Higher Education Institutions. In terms of impact, the YES Strategy achieved a considerable change in young people’s attitudes and their early-stage entrepreneurial activity.
The World Future Council has compiled sustainable solutions on Futurepolicy.org, a database for future-just policies.